Inside story behind Brexiteers’ Rwanda ultimatum to Rishi Sunak

Robert Jenrick says he won’t vote for Rwanda immigration bill

It did not require a crystal ball, as one MP noted, to predict that Sir Bill Cash and his star chamber lawyers would come back and reject Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill.

But what did take around 30 Conservative MPs by surprise as they crammed into the Grimmond Committee room in Parliament to discuss the findings was the vehemence of the document before them.

As one MP said: “This was more than ‘not good enough’ or even ‘not fit for purpose’. This was telling us that the Bill is so flawed that it is unamendable.”

The rapid conclusion among those present that that Rishi Sunak will have to withdraw the Bill and come back with something else.

But there was not much confidence in the room that the Government would happen.

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One former minister put it quite bluntly to his colleagues.

He said: “The Prime Minister may be right, this probably is the toughest piece of legislation on immigration ever but this is a binary issue. It either does what needs to be done or it does not and the fact is it does not. It is not fit for purpose.

“If you have a bucket with holes in it and you fill in some of the holes but leave others then water will still pour out if you try to fill it up.”

The biggest problem with the Bill as it stands is that MPs agreed that “it invites illegal migrants to make individual claims”.

One senior Brexiteer noted: “You can well imagine that the human trafficking criminal gangs will be handing migrants bits of paper when they get in the boat with their scripts – ‘I have a fear of flights’ or ‘I have political problems with Rwanda.’

“Many of those claims will ultimately fail but it will clog the courts and delay things unless you withdraw their right too do it.”

The question now is what to do tomorrow when MPs vote on the Bill for its crucial Second Reading stage.

Already the chief whip Simon Hart is calling senior figures on the right “in a panic” to try to find some middle ground.

But one MP said Hart had been asked: “How can there be middle ground when the Prime Minister has said he will go no further?”

So with a further meeting this evening and one tomorrow, which are likely to see even more MPs present, the decision will be whether to vote against the Bill tomorrow or abstain and try to kill it in January.

The significance of the meeting today though was that it brought together the five powerful groups on the right in unity for perhaps the first time – the European Research Group of Brexiteers chaired by Mark Francois, the Common Sense Group founded by Sir John Hayes, the Northern Research Group founded by Sir Jake Berry, the Conservative Growth Group founded by Liz Truss and the New Conservatives founded by Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates.

One MP said: “I think the mood was that the Prime Minister should withdraw the Bill. It’s hard to see him doing that though because it would be a terrible humiliation.”

If it comes to a vote another MP said: “The likelihood now is we will vote against.”

Veteran Brexiteer Sir John Redwood was particularly strong on this in the meeting according to those present described it as “absolute rubbish”.

Others believe they will have unlikely allies on the left of the party in the One Nation group.

One said: “It seems that for different reasons we both think it is not fit for purpose because they do not like the way it blocks international law.”

It will take 29 Conservative MPs to vote against the Bill to inflict a dreadful defeat on the Prime Minister with the Opposition parties already set to oppose it en masse.

The question then is what that means for a besieged Prime Minister with senior Tories such as Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt and others already apparently engaged in shadow campaigns to get his job.

One Tory MP said: “A lot of colleagues are struggling over the nuclear option but it is increasingly looking like the only option.”

The “nuclear option”, being letters to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, asking for a vote of confidence in the party leader.

No Tory leader has ultimately survived a vote of confidence even though they have mostly won the vote (ask Theresa May and Boris Johnson).

Another MP noted: “I think letters are coming but colleagues still need time.”

As the plotting and private discussions continue in MPs’ offices today and tomorrow, the issue has become whether Sunak pulls the Bill or risks defeat and makes a calculation on which of those two options is most likely to keep him in Downing Street.

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